Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sustainability and Stewardship: From Surviving to Thriving

I spent much of the summer at my home in Portsmouth, England. Portsmouth is the home of the British Navy and my apartment overlooks the harbor entrance. When I arrived, the USS George HW Bush, one of the largest aircraft carriers in the world, was anchored just outside the harbor, in sight of my apartment. It was good to see the U.S. Government was providing special security for my visit.

The UK Government must also have got wind of my being in town. They also sent an aircraft carrier but not just any aircraft carrier -- they sent Her Majesty’s Ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, the newest and largest vessel of the British Royal Navy. I was there to witness the ship’s first entry into Portsmouth Harbor. Portsmouth will be the home port for this aircraft carrier which is expected to be the Flagship of the British Royal Navy for the next fifty years.

According to Rear Admiral Chris Parry, aircraft carriers combine the sustainable reach of maritime platforms, the striking power and versatility of aircraft, and the multi-role possibilities of distinctly large chunks of deployable sovereign territory. Sustainability is an important theme for this aircraft carrier and for my sermon today.

One last reflection on HMS Queen Elizabeth: when the ship was launched in Scotland last year, rather than the traditional champagne launch, it was a bottle of Scotch whisky that was smashed against the hull to launch the ship. What a waste!

I want to start with some “What if?” questions:
·    What if we focused on stewardship rather than leadership?
·    What if we focused on thriving rather than just surviving?

But what is stewardship and what is sustainability?

I like the definition of stewardship as a theological belief that humans are responsible for the world, and should take care of it for the greater good -- Humans are responsible for the world, and we should take care of it for the greater good. It is about the careful and responsible management of something or someone entrusted to our care.

The definition of sustainability that I like is: something that can be continued or a practice that maintains a condition, meeting current needs without harming our environment and without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by balancing environmental, economic, and social concerns. So, something that can be continued without harming our environment.

So, let’s begin with
Environmental stewardship and sustainability

I am often impressed by the passion of advocates who speak from this pulpit. Leah Rothschild who was our service leader during the summer described herself as an eco-feminist which I found described as someone who combines ecological concerns with feminist concerns, both philosophically and politically.  Leah described her experiences of tree sitting, which is a form of environmentalist civil disobedience in which a protester sits in a tree, usually on a small platform built for the purpose, to protect it from being cut down. Tree sitters are stewards of the trees and the forests.
I have never been a strong advocate; I am not really an activist but, as some of you know, I am writing a book on Conscious Leadership and conscious leaders stand for something. So, I have been challenging myself about what I stand for.

So, I stand for non-violence, I stand for freedom of speech but strongly believe in the philosophy of do no harm. I also stand for protecting our environment. 

Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. We need to be good stewards of this earth.
Although the origin is uncertain, I really like this quote: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” -- “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” While I was in England last week, I was told to expect another grandchild next spring. I am looking forward to having another grandchild. But, what am I doing to protect the environment for my children and grandchildren?

In my book, I have included the story of the Patagonia organization. Yvon Chouinard is the founder and owner of Patagonia, an organization that began life creating pitons and axes for the sport of rock climbing. Chouinard soon realized they were becoming, in his words, environment villains. The iron pitons hammered into the rocks caused major damage.

After an ascent of the Nose in Yosemite National Park, once pristine and considered impossible to climb, Chouinard became disgusted with the degradation he had seen and, despite the pitons being the mainstay of their business, decided they would phase out the piton business. In the event, in 1972, they replaced the damaging iron pitons with aluminum chocks that could be wedged in by hand and easily removed rather than hammered in and out of cracks.

Patagonia has become a very successful, environmentally conscious business and is now described as a supplier of environmentally friendly clothes and equipment for silent sports, none of which require a motor and where reward comes in moments of connection between people and nature. I love that: moments of connection between people and nature.

In his book, Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard explains why he was in business. He said, “True, I wanted to give money to environmental causes. But even more, I wanted to create in Patagonia a model other businesses could look to in their own searches for environmental stewardship and sustainability, just as our pitons and ice axes were models for other equipment manufacturers.” This purpose is supported by a mission statement which is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

An interesting tension exists between “building the best product” and “causing no unnecessary harm”?
In an interview with Rick Ridgeway, VP of public engagement at Patagonia, published in Conscious Company Magazine, he talks about this tension.

Patagonia has replaced the chemistry in the durable water resistant (DWR) coating on their shell jackets from one that was causing some considerable harm on the environment through fluorocarbon chemistry with one that is less harmful; but it is still harmful. In analyzing and considering all the other potential replacements they have found that coatings that do no harm to the environment last for only one or two years instead of the fifteen or twenty years for the current jacket. Patagonia cannot possibly be comfortable, much less complacent, with where they’re at, because it’s not nearly good enough but they are working on it and they are being transparent about it.
Environmental stewardship and the importance of the sustainability of our planet for future generations cannot be over-estimated despite what the U.S. president has to say about climate change being a hoax invented by the Chinese. I support the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

I have not yet seen Al Gore’s new movie, The Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power but from what I hear, it is optimistic perspective on just how close we are to a real energy revolution. Apparently, he pursues the inspirational idea that while the stakes have never been higher, the perils of climate change can be overcome with human ingenuity and passion.

Bringing this closer to home, let me mention the Climate Action Coalition of South Florida. I live on the beach and I know the sea levels are rising. I expect Singer Island to be underwater at some point in this century. I don’t think I can stop the sea levels rising but I can join in the those seeking action. I encourage you to support the Climate Action Coalition of South Florida and other environmental initiatives.

UU Stewardship
Let me move on to the stewardship and sustainability of the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches. As president of the Board of Trustees for this Congregation, I take stewardship and sustainability of this Congregation very seriously.

Our next stewardship campaign is some way off but I hope you will continue to be inspired to give generously in support of our Congregation.

As Unitarian Universalist theologian Tom Owen-Towle once said, “Generosity involves openheartedness, the cardinal ability to give lavishly of yourself to others, to the world around you, to the divine communal Spirit in which we live, move, and have our beings.” He goes on to say this “generosity undergirds and underwrites all other values.
Without generosity, one loves sparingly, if not stingily;
without generosity, our acts of justice happen rarely;
without generosity, we hoard our precious gifts of time and soul and other resources.”

The tension between generosity and stewardship challenges the Board of Trustees. We want to be generous and caring for each individual and yet we must take action for the good of all. Decisions we take are not taken lightly.

Some might say we are surviving quite well even without a minister. So far this year, we are within budget. We are coping without a minister. With the active support of so many of our Congregation, I hope you will agree that we are doing more than just surviving -- we are thriving. That doesn’t mean we are complacent. Selection teams are working diligently to hire a settled minister for the long term and a contract minister for the short term. I will be providing an update in my Life of the Congregation presentation after the service today.

We have new members joining and existing members are actively engaged. If you are ready to get more involved, talk to members of the Board and members of the committees. Let’s continue to move positively towards an increasingly thriving Congregation.

Personal stewardship
So, I have talked about environmental stewardship and Congregational stewardship. I would like to end with a focus on personal stewardship. For me, this is about choosing service over self-interest.

Peter Block, who I met in New York about 20 years ago, wrote the book on stewardship. He wrote, stewardship is to hold something in trust for another; a choice to act in service of the long run and a choice to act in the service of those with little power. Although recognizing that the idea of stewardship is somewhat elusive and suffers from ambiguity, the practice of stewardship still provides a framework for thriving in the complexity of this modern age.

Ultimately, we must make a choice between service and self-interest. We exist in an age of self-interest and entitlement. But can we come from a place of service? Can we ask, how may I help you? How may I serve this person or this organization? How may I serve this Congregation?

As I look for examples of conscious leaders, I look for people who act responsibly for the good of all, not first and foremost for their own self-interest. One source of inspiration is the Purpose Prize™ -- an award that honors extraordinary individuals who use their life experience to make a better future for all.  I shared the story of Ysabel Duron in my reading. There are many other examples of exemplary stewards who have made a difference.

As I prepared this service, I was reminded of our sixth and seventh UU principles:
    6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
    7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
These principles run through this message of stewardship and sustainability. 
So, what are you called to do?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.”

Today, October 15, is the 288th day of the year 2017. There are 77 days remaining until the end of the year. What do you stand for? What are you called to do before as we begin to plan for 2018?

So, let me come back to sustainability and stewardship.

I have a growing passion for sustainability of our planet. Last week, the European Union hosted the 4th edition of the Our Ocean conference in Malta. At the conference, 437 tangible and measurable commitments were agreed.
Let me share one commitment. P&G Dish brands -- the world's #1 selling handwashing liquid -- announced it will continue to use 8,000 metric tonnes of recycled plastic per year in its transparent plastic bottles, using an average of 40% Post-Consumer Recycled plastic content.  P&G Dish Care are also using recovered beach plastic and raising consumer awareness of the ocean plastic issue. These initiatives complement P&G's support of the efforts of the Trash Free Seas Alliance to dramatically reduce the flow of plastic into the world's oceans. Members of the Trash Free Seas Alliance® aim to reduce and make continual progress toward eliminating ocean trash.

There are a lot of good things happening. I invite you to look for the causes that inspire you to encourage the survivability of our planet.

Our Congregation is doing more than surviving. I believe we are thriving while we search for a settled minister. I appreciate every one of you, and all you do as stewards of our Congregation.

I invite you all to consider the questions,
·    How may I serve?
·    How may I help sustain our environment whether it be our planet, our country, our state of Florida, our County of Palm Beach, or our own back yard?
·    How may I help this Congregation to thrive?

Put service before self-interest. May it be so.

Sermon by Paul Ward, delivered from the 1stUUPB pulpit on October 15, 2017.

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